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State Laws Governing the Classification of Crimes

ALABAMA: The state criminal code defines the term, crime, as either a felony or a misdemeanor, providing that a misdemeanor is an offense for which the term of imprisonment does not exceed one year, while a felony is an offense for which the term of imprisonment is in excess of one year (see AL ST § 13A-1-2).

ARKANSAS: The state criminal procedure code permits police officers to make warrantless arrests for any crime committed in their presence, for situations where the officer possesses probable cause to believe the suspect committed a felony, and for misdemeanors that the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect committed battery upon another person, so long as there is evidence of bodily harm and the officer reasonably believes that there is danger of further violence unless the suspect is arrested without delay (see AR ST § 16-81-106).

ALASKA: Any person prosecuted for an infraction of the state’s Motor Vehicle Code is not entitled to a court-appointed person or the right to a jury trial (see AK ST § 28.40.050).

ARIZONA: State law governing the city of Tucson defines “civil parking infraction” as “any violation of the city code or city ordinances that regulate the time, place, or method of parking.” (see AZ ST TUCSON CITY CT Rule 2).

CALIFORNIA: State law makes it an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $200.00 for any person to violate the Election Code provisions governing voter registration cards (see CA ELEC § 18107).

FLORIDA: Where a defendant commits only a misdemeanor in the presence of a police officer prior to a collision of the squad car with the defendant’s bicycle, the officer has no authority to use deadly force except in self-defense or if the defendant committed a new felony (see F.S.A. § 776.05[1, 3]).

GEORGIA: While the value of stolen property is not an element of the offense of theft by receiving stolen property, it is relevant for the purpose of distinguishing between a misdemeanor and a felony for sentencing (see O.C.G.A. § 16-8-12[a]).

HAWAII: A court may sentence a person who has been convicted of certain felonies to life imprisonment without parole if the court finds that the felony was committed in an especially “heinous,” “atrocious,” or “cruel” manner that manifests “exceptional depravity” (see HI ST § 706-6570.

ILLINOIS: A motorist’s minor traffic offenses, including speeding and improper lane usage, are petty offenses, and thus are not subject to the expungement procedures set forth in the state statute allowing expungement of convictions for municipal ordinance violations, misdemeanors, and felonies (see S.H.A. 20 ILCS 2630/5[a]).

INDIANA: A sentencing court may enhance a sentence for felony murder by declaring the crime “heinous” and articulating specific facts that suggest heinousness (see A.I.C. 35-42-1-1[2]).

MASSACHUSETTS: For crimes against property, the value of the property destroyed is what distinguishes a felony that is punishable by a prison sentence of up to ten years from a misdemeanor that is punishable by a prison sentence of not more than two and one-half months (see MA ST 266 § 127).

MICHIGAN: A misdemeanor that results in two years’ imprisonment may be deemed a felony for purposes of the habitual offender provisions in the state Code of Criminal Procedure (see M.C.L.A. §§ 750.7, 750.8, 750.9, 760.1 et seq).

MINNESOTA: The Rule of Criminal Procedure allowing the state to appeal a felony sentence does not give the state the right to appeal from a trial court’s order involving a gross-misdemeanor sentence (see MN ST RCRP Rule 28.04; State v. Loyd, 627 N.W.2d 653 [Minn.App. 2001]).

MISSOURI: The state Court of Appeals ruled that private citizens may arrest a suspected felon upon a showing of reasonable grounds to do so or to prevent an affray or breach of the peace, while they may only arrest a suspected misdemeanant if authorized by statute (see State v. Cross, 34 S.W.3d 175 [Mo.App. 2000]).

NEW JERSEY: The state insurance statute denies coverage for personal injury protection (PIP) benefits if the insured suffers personal injuries while committing a high misdemeanor or felony (see NJ ST 39:6A-7).

NEW YORK: Any violation of the Vehicle and Traffic Code must be charged by way of a formal information, unlike mere traffic infractions that may be charged via a simplified traffic information (see People v. Smith, 163 Misc.2d 353, 621 N.Y.S.2d 449 (N.Y.Just.Ct. 1994); NY CRIM PRO § 100.10).

NORTH DAKOTA: Because punishment is irrelevant to a jury’s consideration of guilt or innocence, a jury instruction should not inform the jurors about the penalty to be imposed, and thus jury instructions should not disclose whether the defendant stands to be convicted of a felony or misdemeanor (see State v. Mounts, 484 N.W.2d 843 [N.D. 1992]).

TEXAS: The state Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that an act authorizing a jury of 6 in a trial for misdemeanors is contrary to the constitutional requirement that the jury in a district court shall be composed of 12 men. Rochelle v. State, 89 Tex.Crim. 592, 232 S.W. 838 (Tex.Crim.App. 1921); TX CONST Art. 5, § 13.

UTAH: The state supreme court held that law enforcement officers may not use lethal force to stop one who has committed a misdemeanor. Day v. State ex rel. Utah Dept. of Public Safety, 980 P.2d 1171 (Utah 1999).

VIRGINIA: The State Court of Appeals ruled that defendants have a duty as well as the right to be present at their trials. Even when there is a statute authorizing trial of misdemeanor cases in the absence of the accused, the defendant has no right to be absent at trial and to appear only by counsel (see Durant v. Commissioner, 35 Va.App. 459, 546 S.E.2d 216 [Va.App. 2001]).

Inside State Laws Governing the Classification of Crimes